By Janelle Daberkow
Extension Educator, Stearns and Benton Counties
Care in the selection of the vegetable varieties you will be growing is important for many reasons. The selection of the varieties you choose to grow and sell should be taken after considering several different aspects of your production. First, consider what the market and consumer demand is for your area. Are the varieties you are growing popular and well received from your consumers? Are the consumers you are working with interested in something new or different? Next, consider your operation. Are the varieties you are growing performing well under your growing conditions? Are you pleased with how they are performing? Is the production schedule of these varieties suitable for your operation and consumer demands? And finally, consider if the varieties you are growing have any disease or insect resistance.
Certainly growing situations are very different for each grower, each location, and each year's conditions. But now, with advances in technology, we have the ability to extend the growing season by using high tunnels or row covers, select superior genetics in plants that have disease and insect resistance, and ultimately have a wider selection of varieties to choose from. Many vegetables have been bred for disease resistance, with a good example being tomatoes. Tomato varieties have different disease resistance that is identified on the seed package as V= verticillium wilt resistance, F= fusarium wilt resistance, T= tobacco mosaic virus, amongst others.
A resource available online for commercial growers has had an update release for 2012. The Midwest Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial Growers can be found online at: http://www.btny.purdue.edu/Pubs/ID/ID-56/ This is a very useful resource for growers across the Midwest. This is an updated version of an already existing resource that has been created by Extension and University Research stations in from six different states across the Midwest. Another very helpful resource specific to varieties for Minnesota gardeners and growers can be found here: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG1425.html
So what should you do when selecting vegetable varieties? Do your research. Talk with colleagues, seed representatives and local growers and educators to gather as much information as possible about your options. Experiment by growing one or two different varieties or cultivars each year. Look at trying new varieties as an opportunity, rather than a chore. Consider surveying your consumers on their likes and dislikes on your experimental varieties, and ask them what else they would like to see from your products. Develop a relationship with the local seed representative so they can be a reference source for you, and can help to fill in any gaps that are not covered in a seed catalog. Collect and document previous year's data on sales, production, and performance. Information is power, so knowing what your consumer response is to your products, as well as how each variety fared with production and sales has infinite value, and will help to propel you into future years of production. Don't be afraid to take risks from year to year and measure how you fare, rather than being forced to take a huge risk when conditions are forced upon you.